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Family Health Checklist For Visiting Mecca

Muslim pilgrims

Source : EffectiveIslamicParenting / 04 Sep 2014

Every year over 15 million pilgrims visit the holy city of Mecca Al-Mukarramah. As many as 6 million people travel for the rites of Hajj and Umrah. It is so memorable to see an airport filled with excited elegantly dressed pilgrims who are just about to depart for Mecca and fulfill a lifelong dream. It is  an incredibly special time for both the pilgrims and their family and careful planning is important to ensure a healthy and safe pilgrimage.

Below is a list of things to consider before, during and after the pilgrimage in order to stay healthy.

Before travelling

For many pilgrims, the trip to Mecca (Hajj) is planned some years in advance. At least some of the travelers may be middle aged or older. Some travelers may have chronic medical conditions. As this is a long and special trip, it makes sense to be in the optimal medical health possible prior to travel. Check in with your GP as soon as you know about the trip and have a general medical check up. If you have any medical issues, it is a great idea to get your GP or hospital physician to write a medical report listing any medical conditions, medications and allergies. This is invaluable should you fall sick on your travels. This is also an essential document if you need to travel with medications as it can ease the transit through airport security. Some physicians will even write a care plan in the event of a problem e.g. if you have a diabetic foot ulcer and the ulcer is known to respond well to a particular antibiotic, the GP may include this in the medical summary.

As it is really busy inside the holy city of Mecca it is essential to travel with enough medication for the entire trip (plus some spare medication in case of delays with the flight back home). With the enormous numbers of travelers it is understandable that some of the large suitcases which are checked into the storage area of the aircraft may be temporarily mislaid. Therefore it is essential to carry on board a small bag with all medications that you might need for the entire trip.

You may want to pack at least two bags- one small bag which will be carried on board and one larger bag which will go into the storage area of the plane. There are restrictions on what can be carried in the small in-flight bag and it is worth checking with the airline close to departure what the baggage restrictions are at that time. In general, at present, the maximum allowable volume of liquids, aerosols and gels is 100ml per bottle. Any liquid, gel or aerosol larger than 100 ml will be thrown away by the security staff at the airport. The exceptions to this rule include baby food and essential medicines – hence the importance of the doctors letter.

As millions of people from all over the world converge in Mecca, it is understandable that outbreaks of infectious diseases are possible due to the mingling of immune and non-immune pilgrims and the sheer proximity of people to each other. Hence pilgrims to Mecca need to have some vaccines prior to travel. Ideally the vaccines should be administered some weeks/months pre-departure in order to ensure that the vaccines are fully active on arrival in Mecca. Another reason to get the vaccines well before departure is to avoid the discomfort of traveling with the minor reactions post vaccination e.g. fever, muscle aches. It is essential to have proof of vaccination against meningococcal meningitis to secure a visa to travel to Mecca. Other recommended vaccinations include the polio booster, typhoid, hepatitis A and B, measles, pertussis and the seasonal flu vaccine.

The Flight

Many people take long haul flights to arrive in Jeddah en route to Mecca. Some of the pilgrims may not be used to long distance air travel. For many it is their first and only time on an aircraft. Long haul flights are associated with the risk of clots in the legs which may in turn travel to the lungs and can unfortunately (but rarely) be life threatening. There are simple precautions that can be taken to minimize the risk of these clots including wearing special travel socks which can either be bought in a pharmacy or at the airport. Activity can also reduce the risks of clots and travelers are advised to move about the aircraft (when the fasten seat belt sign is off) in addition to simply rotating the ankles in a circular movement while sitting. Loose comfortable clothing is advisable for the long flight. It is also important to pack a sweater as it can get very cold in the plane. The atmosphere in the air cabin is very dry and it is important to stay hydrated by drinking lots of water. The dry atmosphere can make contact lenses very uncomfortable as well. The food on the aircraft may not be to your liking and it is worth packing some simple snacks such as dry biscuits in your hand luggage.

In Mecca

The population of Mecca can triple during Hajj and there have been incidents of poor crowd control. Poor crowd control has resulted in serious crush injuries and even death. While strategies to reduce this have proven effective, it is still advisable to avoid very densely populated areas and to be aware of the exit routes at all time.

Food and liquid borne diseases are common during visits to Mecca and it is important to choose food vendors carefully, eat well cooked foods and stick to bottled water.

A leading cause of morbidity and mortality in Mecca is heat stroke as the temperatures can rise to 100 degrees F, especially in open crowded areas. The risk of heat stroke can be minimized by avoiding overcrowded open areas in the heat of the day and ensuring an adequate oral intake.

As mentioned above, infectious disease outbreaks can occur and it is important to seek medical care in the event of developing signs or symptoms of infection. It is definitely advisable to seek medical attention prior to departure if unwell as it is very uncomfortable and potentially dangerous to travel while unwell. Furthermore, traveling while unwell can pose a high risk of passing on infections to fellow travelers because of the confined space in the aircraft and the recycled air.

After travel

It is worth remembering that many infectious diseases have an incubation period which extends beyond the average duration of a visit to Mecca. Hence visitors may arrive home well but become ill some days or weeks later. It is essential to seek medical advice and to specifically let your health care provider know that you have just returned form Mecca.

Similarly clots in the legs or lungs may present weeks after returning and it is important to seek prompt medical care for painful calves, swollen legs , cough, chest pain, shortness of breath or coughing up blood.

However it is certainly worth remembering that the vast majority of pilgrims return perfectly well (except of course for those pilgrims who decide to stay!)

It is our sincere hope that this article will help you and your family have a wonderful and safe Hajj.


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